Media release: Corbyn – We can fix our failing media by setting journalists and citizens free to hold power to account


JEREMY Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, will set out ideas for “building a free and democratic media for the digital age” in the prestigious Alternative MacTaggart Lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival tomorrow (Thursday).

Corbyn will argue that “we need bold, radical thinking on the future of our media” because of low levels of public trust and the impact of the digital revolution.

Without major changes, he will say, a “few tech giants and unaccountable billionaires will control huge swathes of our public space and debate”.

The Labour Leader, who previously worked on the Newport and Market Drayton Advertiser and chaired the National Union of Journalists’ Parliamentary group, will argue that “a free press is essential to our democracy”, but that journalists and media workers need to be “set free to do their best work, not held back by media bosses, billionaires or the state”.

Corbyn will outline proposals for debate to expand and empower public interest journalism including:

* Strengthening Freedom of Information by ending ministerial vetoes and including private companies delivering public services;

* Giving charitable status to some local, investigative and public interest journalism;

* Creating an independent fund for public interest journalism paid for by tech giants; and

* Expanding an existing BBC-government scheme to fund and develop local journalism.

Corbyn will also outline his support for the BBC as a publicly owned, public service broadcaster and media organisation, which he will say is “a great institution which rightly commands a special place in our country’s story and national life”.

But, he will argue, we need to look at ways to democratise the BBC so it is freer from government influence, more accountable to the public and more representative of the country it serves.

On the BBC, Corbyn will float a series of ideas, including:

* The election of some of the BBC board members by staff and licence fee payers, and the reduction or removal of the government’s powers of appointment;

* Complete transparency about the diversity and make-up of the BBC workforce;

* Placing the BBC on a permanent statutory footing to end government control through charter renewal;

* The introduction of a digital licence fee, payable by tech giants or through internet service providers, to supplement the current TV licence fee and reduce the cost for poorer households.

On expanding FOI, Jeremy Corbyn is expected to say: “I’m proud that one of the great tools that journalists can use to hold power to account, The Freedom of Information Act, was introduced by a Labour government.

“We have already said that we would expand the Act so it covers private sector providers of public services. It is simply not acceptable for corporate executives to hide behind the excuse of commercial confidentiality when they are meant to be providing – and as we’ve seen with Carillion, East Coast Mainline and Birmingham Prison this week so often failing – a public service.

“But I think we should be more ambitious. Currently, ministers can veto FOI releases. On two occasions, this veto has been used to block information about the UK’s decision to pursue military action against Iraq. That can’t be right. We will look at ending the ministerial veto to prevent the Information Commissioner being overruled.”

On the charitable status of public interest journalism, Jeremy Corbyn is expected to say:

“The best journalism takes on the powerful, in the corporate world as well as government, and helps create an informed public. This work costs money. We value it but somehow that doesn’t translate into proper funding and legal support.

“So, we should look at granting charitable status for some local, investigative and public interest journalism. That status would greatly help pioneering not-for-profit organisations, like the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, to fund their vital work through tax exemptions, grants and donations. “

On finding new funds to support public interest media, Jeremy Corbyn is expected to say:

“One solution to funding public interest media could be by tapping up the digital monopolies that profit from every search, share and like we make.

“Google and news publishers in France and Belgium were able to agree a settlement. If we can’t do something similar here, but on a more ambitious scale, we’ll need to look at the option of a windfall tax on the digital monopolies to create a public interest media fund.”

On supporting local and community media, Jeremy Corbyn is expected to say:

“This important part of the media, and its fantastic workforce, could be supported by reform and expansion of an existing BBC scheme, which sees ring fenced funding for ‘local democracy reporters’ employed in local papers.

“Part of these funds could be made available to local, community and investigative news co-ops, with a mandate to use significant time and resources reporting on public institutions, public service providers, local government, outsourced contractors and regulated bodies.”

On elections to the BBC board, Jeremy Corbyn is expected to say:

“One proposal would simultaneously reduce government political influence on the BBC while empowering its workforce and license fee payers. That would see some elections of places to the BBC Board, for example of executive directors by staff and non-executive directors by licence fee payers.

“To help decentralise the BBC, national and regional boards could be expanded, with election by BBC staff and local licence fee payers. All boards should be representative of the country, with a minimum representation for women and minority groups.”

On complete transparency of the BBC workforce’s makeup, Jeremy Corbyn is expected to say:

“The BBC could lead the way by setting best practice with complete transparency on the makeup of its workforce by publishing equality data, including for social class, for all creators of BBC content, whether in-house or external.”

On putting the BBC on a permanent, independent footing and the introduction of a digital licence fee, Jeremy Corbyn is expected to say:

“If we want an independent BBC, we should consider setting it free by placing it on a permanent statutory footing, with a new independent body setting the licence fee.

“The licence fee itself is another potential area for modernisation. In the digital age, we should consider whether a digital licence fee could be a fairer and more effective way to fund the BBC.

“A digital licence fee, supplementing the existing licence fee, collected from tech giants and Internet Service Providers, who extract huge wealth from our shared digital space, could allow a democratized and more plural BBC to compete far more effectively with the private multinational digital giants like Netflix, Amazon, Google and Facebook. This could also help reduce the cost of the licence fee for poorer households.”


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